by Steve Smith
The concerts that the New York Youth Symphony is presenting at Carnegie Hall this season are bittersweet affairs: each brings closer the impending departure of Paul Haas, the group's dynamic young music director, who will step down in May. This lanky conductor is surely on the brink of a noteworthy career, judging by the evidence of his work with this fine group.
Each concert by this orchestra includes a new piece by an emerging composer; Sunday afternoon's performance opened with ''Tapu'at'' by Paul Fowler, who received his training at Ithaca College and the University of Michigan. The seven-minute work evoked the courses of a circular Hopi labyrinth, linking each to an elemental characteristic: fire, water, earth, air, spirit, light and sound, according to Mr. Fowler's program note.
The piece began with whirling woodwind figures, pulsing percussion and flickering strings. A second section had a slow, gentle flow, with liquid solo lines played beautifully by Laura Lutzke, the concertmaster. A stately passage for brass and rumbling percussion was followed by sections that were radiant, ghostly and shimmering by turns. The conclusion returned to the sounds of the introduction, restated more boldly. The colorful, attractive music was an ideal showcase for these accomplished players.
Mr. Haas established a suitably gracious tone for Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, which included glowing contributions from the winds and French horns. Efe Baltacigil, the young associate principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, played the solo part with a warm, singing tone and a clean, elegant technique. This music is Tchaikovsky at his most congenial, and the players brought out its delectable sweetness.
After intermission Mr. Haas took the stage to conduct Brahms's Symphony No. 4, then noticed something amiss and excused himself. A moment later, to the amusement of the audience, a stagehand removed the music stand from the podium. Was there a hint of bravado in Mr. Haas's return? Probably. But it was not misplaced: Every note and gesture in this score could be discerned in his exacting stick technique and body language as he steered his players through a compelling performance.